" /> Manjula goes blogging...: October 2003 Archives

« September 2003 | Main | November 2003 »

October 22, 2003

"One Lucky Turtle"

I recently discovered that Tibetan Buddhism includes sea turtles in its teachings. I came across this in a book that I recommend highly to those who enjoy travel literature - it is Jeff Greenwald’s book called “The Size of the World.” This story is told to the author by the head abbot of the Ka Nying Shedrup Ling Monastery in Nepal and I shall quote directly from the book:

“Just one kind of sentient being can understand, can practice the teaching of Buddha. But which kind? Anyone know? […] Is it dog? Can dog liberate? Hmmmm? Cat? Ant? Yeti? Which? […] Only human being. […] So lucky to be human being. […] Tibetans say […] one turtle swimming in ocean. Swimming, swimming. All alone, ocean so vast. And somewhere, somewhere, floating on the ocean, a kind of …ring. Floating, floating. So. One time - every hundred years - turtle comes up to surface of ocean. What chance, you think, turtle will come up through ring? What chance? Very small, I think. Very, very small. But to be born as human being - this is an even smaller chance. Much smaller! Better chance of turtle coming up through ring than of a sentient being taking a human rebirth. Understand? So what this means? It means this: Human life is very, very rare. Very, very precious. And if you understand how precious, and how rare, you will never waste. You will never, ever waste this opportunity for study, for practice, for liberation.”

(PS: The title of this blog is the same as the one used by the author for the excerpt in which he narrates this story.)

October 09, 2003


The simplest way to get across Great Nicobar Island to the beaches on the west coast was to catch a ride part way with someone driving along the single paved road that cut across the island in one of the very few motorized vehicles on Great Nicobar. Several plans were made and canceled - the bad mountain road and the deplorable condition of the jeep with its tractionless tires and ready-to-jump-off body parts delayed the expedition. Finally, Ratnam and I hitched a ride with a doctor and a teacher who were headed to “Shompen Complex”, a collection of 2-3 huts in the middle of the rainforest - a controversial attempt to provide education and medical care to the Shompens, a primitive tribe found in the deep forested interior and occasionally along the coast of only Great Nicobar. The Shompens are a seminomadic tribe of Mongoloid origin and apparently fewer than 200 of them remain. Their interactions have been largely limited to the coastal Nicobari tribe, with minimum contact with the non-tribal settlers (although this trend may be changing). In the two years that the doctor had been there, he had never had a patient and the teacher who had written out the Hindi alphabet on the blackboard had never had a student. Apparently, if the Shompens did come, they collected the food being offered, indulged in some wrestling, and disappeared into the forest. Very little of their language is known and the only times I met Shompens (only men, never women) along this road, it was mostly a silent encounter during which they exchanged honey combs for tobacco/cigarettes with the local non-tribal men...

Another time, Ratnam and I met a Shompen walking on the beach along a river we were preparing to wade across. He was wearing a styrofoam box on his head and carrying a long stick and probing for turtle nests. (Although sea turtles are protected under the Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act of 1972, the indigenous tribes are exempt from this Act). Again, few words were exchanged, but he rowed us across the river one at a time in his dugout - possibly an ordinary moment for him and Ratnam, but different for me.